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August 29, 2018 10:23 am

Liberal Democrats, Trump Loyalists, and Women Win in US Nominating Contests

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Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum speaks at a Florida League of Cities Gubernatorial Candidates Forum in Hollywood, Florida, Aug. 15, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Joe Skipper / File.

Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans loyal to Donald Trump scored victories in nominating contests for Florida and Arizona, giving momentum to the insurgent wings of America’s two main parties ahead of the November mid-term election.

Here are several takeaways from contests that will be pivotal in November, when Democrats hope to wrest control of Congress from Republicans and win back influential statehouses.

Democrats swing left in governor races

A few weeks ago, Andrew Gillum remained relatively unknown to Florida voters despite a historic bid to be the state’s first black governor. Most opinion polls through Election Day showed him trailing in a crowded field of better-funded competitors.

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But he pulled off an upset with an unapologetically liberal agenda and grassroots campaign in a battleground state, where Democrats have failed to hold the governor’s office for two decades after successive losses by white, centrist candidates.

Gillum defied that conventional wisdom with his fiery calls for expansive government-run healthcare and Trump’s impeachment. The 39-year-old son of a bus driver highlighted the power of his historic candidacy to rouse younger and more racially diverse voters who often sit out midterm elections.

“This is a kind of young Democrat that can actually, for a change, spike turnout,” said Susan MacManus, a political analyst and retired political science professor at the University of South Florida, noting that many Democrats have grown uneasy with their party’s aging national leaders. “This is exactly the antidote that a lot of progressives were hopeful for.”

In Arizona, David Garcia, a Latino progressive candidate, secured the Democratic nomination for governor in a contest seen as a longer shot for the party to win.

An educator and veteran, Garcia has called for tuition-free college and reform of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He was immediately blasted by Republicans as too radical for the electorate in the November general election, when he will face incumbent Republican Governor Doug Ducey.

Trump’s endorsement sways Republican base

In Florida, President Donald Trump’s endorsement helped catapult a conservative once seen as a longshot candidate for governor to a 20-percentage point win in the Republican nominating contest.

Congressman Ron DeSantis’ trouncing of the early establishment favorite, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, underscored the president’s popularity with the Republican base.

DeSantis, 39, is the latest in a string of Republican candidates elevated this year by the president’s engagement in intraparty fights.

While Trump held off endorsing any of the three Republicans in a contentious US Senate battle in Arizona, the candidates all spent the final stretch of the campaign touting their allegiance to him.

Establishment favorite US Representative Martha McSally fended off two hardline conservatives, former state senator Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in a southwestern state that Trump won by about 4 percentage points.

In Oklahoma, political newcomer Kevin Stitt won a runoff for the Republican nomination after closely aligning himself with Trump’s agenda.

Women dominate congressional contests

Up and down the ballot, female candidates continue to dominate key races in a year with record numbers of women seeking office across the country.

Either McSally, 52, or Democratic opponent US Representative Kyrsten Sinema, 42, will be Arizona’s first female US senator. The winner may decide which party controls the chamber where Republicans hold a one-seat majority.

Former Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday for McSally’s congressional seat in the suburbs around Tucson. Republican businesswoman Lea Marquez Peterson had her party’s early lead in the highly competitive district.

In Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala, a longtime party insider who ran the US healthcare agenda under former President Bill Clinton, bested several male candidates to win the party’s nomination for a competitive congressional seat in Miami.

She will square off against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a Spanish-language television journalist.

Both are seeking the seat vacated by retiring Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a contest that could present the Democrats with a good opportunity to win a seat currently held by a Republican.

Salazar’s background, however, could help Republicans hold onto the seat in a district where about three-fourths of the population is Hispanic but which favored Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.

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